It starts in the parking lot.
Drive in behind the wheel of something small, some damn Japanese car, and you feel like a fish out of water. But it's more than that; you feel almost unpatriotic. The lot of Phoenix Civic Plaza is filled with four-wheel-drive monsters, many of which have a ground clearance higher than the roof of a Mitsubishi. These vehicles represent the hard-charging, empire-building spirit that all those liberal types want to toss out along with the ashes of Old Glory herself! These things don't just own the road, they own the off-road, too, pal. And that's where hunters go hunting, and there are a lot of hunters here today (January 8). Came in with their Fords, Chevys and GMCs to attend the Ted Nugent World Bowhunters Family Conservation Rally and Hunters' Concert. Call him The Whackmaster, The Motor City Madman, Uncle Ted, Your Favorite White Guy (he refers to himself as all of the above), or by the simple sobriquet used by two generations of rock fans--The Nuge--he is the driving force and main attraction of this gala event.
It's about hunting. It's about rock. It's about families. It's about being a True American. Walk up to the window and pay your $12 to get in, but leave that holster and quiver at the door, friend. There is a handwritten sign taped up containing six words and boundless irony: "No Weapons of Any Kind Allowed."
Nugent started the World Bowhunters organization, now 10,000 members strong, three years ago. According to a Bowhunters' flier, the rock n' roller's organization is "about being in touch. Workin' hard, playing hard and retaining a pulse with the world around us." He emphasizes conservation, courtesy and clean living (Nugent is vehemently antidrink, drugs and tobacco). And he eats everything he kills.
Ted, who has recorded 20 rock albums since 1969, now publishes the bimonthly World Bowhunters magazine, and the full-color Whackmaster catalogue. If you're in the market for a Gonzo Safari bow, Zwickey Judo shooting heads, Whackmaster arrows, targets and pruning shears, a full wardrobe of camouflage clothing (including diapers) or Nuge CDs, posters or a handpainted, Zebra Whackmaster guitar--look no further. Nugent has quite a business going here, and he claims all the proceeds are funneled back into the organization.
But back to the rally.
You walk through the foyer toward the main hall, passing a table set up by the Libertarians. They're having a contest. There's a sign that says "Win a Gun." Well, one of three guns, actually: an AR-15, AK-47 or an SKS. "It's $5 a ticket," says a Libertarian in a suit. "Your chances are better than a scratcher at Circle K." The real action is inside. There are a couple thousand people here this afternoon, parents with small children, boyfriends with girlfriends, folks who look like hunters, folks who look like rockers. Plenty of camouflage wear and Jack Daniel's tee shirts. And despite The Nuge's profound hatred of alcohol, there is plenty of beer on sale.
A soundtrack of Nuge-music plays on the PA as everyone drifts among the many booths, booths displaying just about any hunting-related thing you can think of. And maybe some you can't.
Just down from the Rattlesnake Archery stall is Denmark Sausage. Mark and Trey are in charge, giving free samples of Slim Jim, summer sausage and jerky, all made out of elk meat. Go ahead, try some. And guess what? That's terrific elk! Mark explains you can bring in your own kill--deer, antelope, javelina and elk, of course--and have it turned into a delicious meat snack for only $39. Forty-eight bucks if it's unskinned.
The affable guy at the Webster's Sure Loc broadhead booth is showing three young boys a few arrow tips he's designed. He's holding a particularly nasty-looking one that opens up on impact. "It's got a two-and-a-half-inch cut," he says, explaining how the thing works. "It's like modern surgery, they go in and fix what's wrong, this goes in and wrecks everything that's right." A woman gets up onstage and begins raffling off all kinds of stuff, from hunting items to suntan lotion. The grand prize is a satin-finish, muzzle-loader rifle valued at $585. All proceeds will go to D.A.R.E., the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program that encourages kids to inform on everybody, including their parents.
Wink LaPlante is listening to the ticket numbers as they're announced; she stands with her 9-year-old daughter, Elyse. Both look like they're having a blast. "Our man brought us here," laughs Wink, who doesn't hunt, but thinks "it's wonderful--we eat the meat they bring home." Does Elyse like Nugent? "I don't know nothing about Ted," she says. What about hunting? "It bugs me cause I like animals and I don't really like killing animals, but Dad wants me to grow up to be like him, so I probably will get into hunting when I'm old enough."
And that's exactly what Nugent wants, to dispel the image of hunters as "drunken, tobacco-chewing rednecks." Ted's words. The man is on a veritable crusade to do so, soapboxing on radio shows and making live appearances year-round while touring with his band, Damn Yankees. When he comes to your town, he's more likely to make an appearance at a hunting shop than a record outlet.
Archie Audis fits The Nuge's hunting credo, and he's come down from Prescott to take in the scene. "Hunting is about respect, you have to eat what you shoot," he says. "But it's not just about killing something, it's getting out there in nature itself." He's sporting a yellow tee shirt with a drawing of a handgun firing. It says "I Don't Dial 911." "I own the Glock 19, that's the gun on the picture," Archie says proudly. "I saw it in a magazine and said, 'I've gotta have that!'"
Not everybody is booth-hopping. A line stretching practically across the room has formed, hundreds of folks who will wait patiently for an autograph, a handshake, a brief meeting with The Nuge. Standing near the front are two women whose clothing is camouflaging very little.
They are Michelle and Rochelle. Michelle is wearing a black-leather bustier with chains draped across her chest, a black-leather skirt (also with chains) and five-and-a-half-inch stiletto heels. Rochelle's ensemble is pretty much the same, without the chains.
"We're over with World of Wheels, really," reveals Michelle. "We're the Lost Dutchman Girls." The World of Wheels is a car convention going on in another hall at the Plaza, and the Lost Dutchman is a hot rod. "We want to drag Ted over there for a 9 o'clock show to sign some autographs, maybe just draw a bigger crowd. We're doing a fashion show later, bikinis, lingerie, hard-rock clothing."
They don't hunt, but they don't have any problems with it. "I believe that hunting brings families closer together," she says, chains swaying gently from her bosom. "It's something they can do as a unit. It tells little kids what hunting is all about. It's about survival, it's about life, it's not about hurting animals."
Then, finally, it's time. The lights are down, the room feels like rock n' roll. And there he is, striding onstage like he owns the joint. His lanky, gonzo bod is clad in a zebra-skin-patterned Whackmaster tee shirt and matching Whackmaster hat. Ted the Hunter! Ted the Rocker! Ted the Official Rock n' Roll Representative of the Rush Limbaugh EIB Radio and Television Network! Aw, hell--it's The Nuge!
The place goes nuts, and Ted starts in on his rap. He talks about his mission, his raison d'àtre. "I am a national spokesman for the American Law Enforcement Agency's D.A.R.E. program, and that has a lot to do with the fact that I'm 45 and I'm locked, I'm cocked, I'm ready to rock! Take a good look, kids. [The crowd roars.] I've never touched drugs or alcohol in my life cause that's for weenies!" Among those weenies, Ted numbers Jimi Hendrix. "Jimi did drugs and now he's dead; I went hunting and I'm still Ted!"
Nugent is a charismatic, passionate speaker. He talks for about an hour, keeping everybody rapt. He really gets worked up, you'd swear he was running for office or something. Here are a few of the things he says, many of them interrupted by applause from the assemblage--The Nuge is preaching to the choir.
"My family only eats dead stuff."
"I'm from Detroit. We're not the murder capital cause we're more violent--we're just better shots!"
"We've got more deer, more turkey, more caribou, more elk, more bear, more geese, more antelope than there has ever been in 100 years. . . . The mothers and daughters and sons and fathers of this country who hunt and fish and trap, we alone are responsible for healthy, thriving wildlife in America because we care. We regulate ourselves, we restrict ourselves, we police ourselves . . . if you want to do something good for wildlife, buy a hunting license!"
All of this is uplifting, whether you're a hunter or not. Then The Nuge's speech takes a big right turn; no, we're not talking about just shooting animals anymore:
"Get a gun, learn to respect it, get a proper license, put it in your belt, and shoot the bad guy," he says, stretching his words for effect. "If you want to do something to save your children, shoot the bad guy! If you don't know who the bad guy is, he is the guy who stands up on the subway and starts shooting people. That's the bad guy, for those of you who are so cowardly that you're not prepared. . . . We are a nation of cowards."
Ted wonders how anyone could sit in a McDonald's and let a guy walk in and start offing people without doing anything. "I'd have been sitting there with a mouth full of burger and said, 'What the hell's that?'" Then The Nuge pantomimes a quick-draw of an invisible handgun and, yes, shoots the bad guy. The crowd loves it.
"I think Janet Reno is Castro's girlfriend. . . . Janet Reno is for reducing our capability of defending ourselves with proper, state-of-the-art weaponry, and Janet Reno can kiss my ass!"
We're not talking about any limp bow and arrow, no measly handguns. "I don't want to hear any more stories about drive-by shootings, we know who these people are that are driving by and shooting. I recommend you buy an assault weapon, it's a fine, fine tool. I have Black & Decker drills, I have a coffee maker, and I have assault weapons because I'm a tool kind of guy. And you use certain tools for certain jobs. If you don't think you need an assault weapon, go back and look at the L.A. riots and see how good a five-shot revolver would have helped you out there."
And then the kicker: "There's only one gun law necessary in this country. Put the second bullet in the same hole as the first bullet." Well. Nugent eventually gets around to playing some guitar; he sits in a chair and does a handful of hunting-related songs. But there's no "Cat Scratch Fever," no "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang," no "Yank Me, Crank Me." Nobody seems to mind. Then Ted says good night, and graciously heads back to the autograph table.
Folks are leaving now, some with bows, arrows, knives and tee shirts in hand, souvenirs of the day. Rene Watters, Nuge fan, is leaving only with questions. "Why didn't he say that you can get arrested for just carrying a gun into McDonald's?" she says. "He's not reminding people how much trouble they can get in for killing the bad guy; he's putting a strong message out there without reminding people of the consequences. It's irresponsible to me."
But she seems to be in the minority.
Jane Cook, her son, Clyde, and his girlfriend, Veve, are all smiles. Clyde even got a guitar pick from his hero. "I loved it when he said shoot the bad guy," says mom, glowing. "I liked everything he had to say; no drugs, no alcohol." Would she vote for him if he ran for office? "Yeah, oh yeah."
And then there's Jim Quinn, headed for the exit doors toting a huge box; Quinn had the lucky ticket and snared the raffled muzzle loader. He came here simply as a rock fan, but he's leaving as something else. "I don't agree with everything Nugent said, but you got to respect a guy who goes out and says what he believes," Quinn offers. And what is he going to do with the gun? "I'm probably going to start hunting."
@hed:@deck:@by:By Peter Gilstrap
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@cut:Nugent fans Kelly Hopler (left), 16, and Sarah Bash, 15, waited for autographed glossies.
@cut:The Libertarian party raised funds by raffling assault weapons.
@cut:Mandall's Shooting Supply booth, where one could scope out the help.